Today's interviewee is South Paulding coach Jason Thompson, whose team is 6-1 overall and 5-0 in Region 5-AAAAAA after going 2-8 in Thompson's first season. According to the computer Maxwell Ratings, South Paulding is 22.22 points better than projected in preseason, making the Spartans the most pleasant surprise in
Class AAAAAA. South Paulding plays Mays (6-1, 5-0) on Friday at Lakewood Stadium with the region lead at stake.
Jason Thompson, South Paulding head coach
1. What's the biggest difference over last season? "Last year, we were super, super young, and there was a deficit in the weight room. We were just so far behind. The goal last year was to get the kids to believe they could play the game and be competitive. This season, we've made tremendous gains in the weight room, and we returned basically everybody in our lineup."
2. You coached for five seasons at North Gwinnett [2012-16] under coach Bob Sphire. Your offense has a similar look to those old North Gwinnett teams, getting two-thirds of its total yards through passing. Is South Paulding modeled after North Gwinnett a little bit? "Our practices are the same format and tempo as North Gwinnett's was. Our terminology on offense is the same. Our weight room has the same philosophy. Two coaches on my staff - the offensive coordinator [Jeremy Clements] and offensive line coach [Duvall Braxton] - coached with me at North Gwinnett. I hired Jason Nash [defensive coordinator], who had worked with Mo Dixon [North Gwinnett's former defensive coordinator] at Colquitt County, and he helps run our weight room. The way we practice, that's what makes us. When I took over last spring, they hadn't had practices like that before. After the first two days of spring, one of the parents came up to me and said he asked his son what they were doing and his son said, 'I'm not sure, but man, do we go fast.' That's the mentality that we brought in. We practice two hours, and every bit of that is moving around. There's no standing on the sideline. Everybody is practicing and being coached. That allows us to be coaches and have depth and develop a next-man-up attitude when we have those injuries."
3. What did you see in South Paulding when you took the job in 2017? "I saw a bunch of people in a community that was hungry to change. They had the nucleus. They had the kids. They had the want to. They just had to be shown the way. It was a perfect transition going from Coach [Ed] Koester, who was an old-school coach [who led the program to its three playoff berths in 2013-15], and coming and being totally fresh and new. Everybody bought into it. We knew it was way down the road and that we were young and weak, but the kids were so committed from day one. We play BIG football - Believe, Invest, Grow. That's our mantra."
4. The game against Mays is probably the biggest one in the careers of all the players in your program. What's the mood like? "I just talked to them about it today. Time is the focus. Some people say that we're on borrowed time, that we're going to lose eventually. We've won six times in a row. We're playing Mays. We've never beaten Mays. Or, maybe this is the perfect time for us to take that next step. Mays is a heck of a football team. There are places where we don't match up. But this time of year, you want to finish off with a playoff atmosphere, and that's the way it's set up for us. Our players are excited. It's a top-10 matchup. They're a little nervous because they haven't been in this situation, but maybe that naivete helps. I don't think they know to be scared. They're embracing this."
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